Market for buyers, sellers starting to take shape
Tigers, Cards should be looking to add as they eye division crowns
Baseball's calendar marches on. With the Draft soon in the rear-view mirror and All-Star balloting under way, the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline will soon be visible on the horizon.
It's a new landscape for general managers as trade season dawns. The second Wild Card in each league means that more teams than ever have realistic shots at the postseason, which should depress the number of sellers. At the same time, though, division leaders may be more aggressive to improve, hoping to avoid falling into the one-game Wild Card matchup, a perilous destination where a little bad luck could sink a great season.
For some clubs, it's obvious. The Cubs will likely look to sell off some assets as they continue to build for glory down the road. The Reds, clearly invested in winning this year, will probably look to add to the big league roster. It's in the in-between where things are interesting. Here's a look at some teams straddling the fence, and how the next eight weeks could affect their respective stances.
A year after being a pleasant surprise, the D-backs look like one of baseball's bigger disappointments in 2012. They're nine games out in the National League West and six games behind the second Wild Card. Arizona has been outscored by 19 runs, the fifth-worst differential in the league.
The Snakes aren't profligate spenders, and there's some interesting talent in the pipeline, so it's difficult to imagine them mortgaging the future to save the season.
And in a market in which everyone is looking for pitching (which is to say, every year), lefty Joe Saunders could be a valuable chip. He's enjoying a second successive solid season, and he has four straight seasons of at least 31 starts and 186 innings. The D-Backs could still make a run at the Dodgers and Giants, but as of now, the best guess is that they might part with someone like Saunders and look to making another run in 2013.
Forecast: Selling, but not dismantling
Few teams are more interesting this year than the O's, both on and off the field. Between the lines, they've been an overachiever for two months now, though things have turned south lately. The Orioles are out of first place, and their run differential has dropped to even, two distressing trends.
Off the field, Baltimore signed Adam Jones to a long-term deal but otherwise its front office has kept quiet about its plans. Getting a read on Dan Duquette's first trade season in more than a decade is a bit of a guessing game at this point.
Duquette is likely to be in a difficult position come late July, when his team has fallen enough that buying can't really be justified, but not so much that he can sell. If the Orioles were to add, they'd probably bolster a starting rotation that's starting to show some cracks. Alternately, they could move some secondary veteran pieces such as Mark Reynolds and Kevin Gregg.
Forecast: Small-scale selling, possibly holding
It's fair to call Detroit the most disappointing team in the league so far, but the season is only one-third old. The Tigers made a run and won the American League Central last year, and no one would be shocked if they did it again.
Jim Leyland's club could use a couple of upgrades, including in the starting rotation, where there are far too many questions behind Justin Verlander. Second base is also a massive area of need, as all Tigers keystone men have combined for a batting line of .175/.253/.249.
The Tigers were probably a bit over-hyped before the season, but they're better than they've looked. And the areas in which they've struggled are spots where even a decent addition could be a big upgrade. So until and unless Chicago or Cleveland runs away with the Central, Detroit will be aiming to win the division.
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
An 8-16 skid has caused a team that once led the National League Central by 4 1/2 games to fall to three games out of first. Injuries have hit the World Series champs repeatedly and hard, with first baseman Lance Berkman and outfielder Jon Jay among those joining right-hander Chris Carpenter on the disabled list.
Still, the Redbirds have the league's best run differential. They look forward to getting those injured players back, and reinforcements are expected for the pitching staff and starting lineup. The plan clearly is to win now. It will take something truly shocking to move the Cardinals from buyers to sellers.
As for their needs, there are a few, with the bullpen at the top of the list. Infield depth wouldn't be unwelcome, and the addition of a starting pitcher wouldn't be a shock -- with the thought process that, as in 2011, the Cards could then bolster their bullpen by moving a starter out there.
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.